Jeff Crosby. Waking Days. At the Helm Records

jeff-crosby-waking-days

Anyone looking for a whiff of nostalgia for the good old California days need look no further than this album from Jeff Crosby, Idaho raised but inhabiting (at least in his mind) Laurel Canyon circa ’74. He looks the part, longhaired and denim clad on the sleeve, an extra awaiting his call to lie down beside the Eagles for the Desperado photo shoot. His sound is akin to a gruffer Jackson Browne, his voice has a handsome lived in element to it while the songs are snapshots of outsiders; strangers in a bar, folk killing time on the street corner, drifters on a two lane blacktop, all caught up in their memories of happier times.  Delivered with a nod to the stirrings of country rock when rock musicians such as The Dead were starting to sweeten their songs with pedal steel Crosby sails through the album with some finesse.

Aside from one out and out rocker, the ferocious snarl of What’s Normal Now which Crosby says is a homage to his liking for 90’s rock (Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr.?) and the title track’s Springsteen like blue collar rock imagination of the American Dream Crosby sticks to his 70’s template albeit he’s no copyist. Opening with the evocative City Girls he establishes his narrative gift as he describes a chance encounter in a bar with a girl who dreams of better days but who is condemned to endlessly repeat the scene, the song ending on a guitar solo that recalls the likes of Waddy Watchell.  This easy rolling rock’n’roll, reminiscent of artists across the spectrum from Warren Zevon to Fleetwood Mac, continues on The Homeless and The Dreamers with Crosby in particularly good form on the lyrical front here, the words a cry from a lost soul cast adrift from friends and family. The elegantly sculpted piano laden love song Emily is a road song of sorts with Crosby drawing on the topography of the West, the lovers separated by canyons and time, a theme revisited on the brash country rock of The Only One I Need, a song that is borne aloft by the pedal steel playing of Brian Whelan.

Whelan features heavily on several songs that are more contemplative. Carved In Sandstone, a song inspired by a feature built on Table Rock in Idaho, a 60-foot high cross on which teens carve their undying love. It’s perhaps the fulcrum of the album as Crosby again sings of a past lover and their memories but ends up admitting he’s down and lonesome in Tennessee. It’s a lovely careworn country lament, bittersweet but honeyed. Red White and Blue is another pedal steel crowned beauty, somewhat starker but again imbued with memories as is I Should Be Happy with Crosby again facing choices and looking back as he imagines his ex lover’s happy existence while he is stuck in a rut, his internal voice telling him he should be happy.

A fine listening experience, Waking Days is a fresh take on well-worn themes and a welcome calling card for those new to Crosby’s music. This release is a second time around for the album which was originally released in 2015. This version has two bonus songs tacked on at the end, both older songs from Crosby which have been featured in the TV series Sons Of Anarchy. This Old Town is a fine blend of Springsteen and Dylan with harmonica to the fore while Oh Love, Oh Lord is a bang on capture of the funky corkscrewed guitar and keyboard sound of The Band.

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Various Artists. I Like it Better Here -Music From Home

The first release from the Hemifran label (who are one of the prime distributors and publicists of Americana in Sweden) is an odd affair. To launch the label not only have they reached across the Atlantic they’ve also delved into the past and come up with a collection that celebrates the classic seventies era of singer/songwriters. The inclusion of folk such as Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Jack Tempchin, Steve Noonan and Greg Copeland, all bona fide paid up members of the Laurel Canyon set is impressive. In addition some lesser-known names of the time and some contemporary continental artists pitch in with some very simpatico styled songs.
Of course some would argue that much of the music of this era was bland, drug fuelled narcissism or that it paved the road to excess as exemplified by the uber group that was the Eagles. However much that was recorded then remains vital and the best parts of this collection recall the optimistic and indeed groundbreaking sounds that continue to fuel much of today’s Americana.
The opening song, This is My Country, by Joel Rafael, recorded live, features Crosby and Nash on vocals and is the most nostalgic song here. Recalling that pairs’ glory days, the sound of Nash protesting hasn’t changed one iota over the years. The remainder of the album sounds more contemporary while maintaining the innocence, anger and values that the likes of CSN&Y espoused. Jack Tempchin (writer of the Eagles’ Peaceful Easy Feeling) contributes a fine rootsy acoustic blues song. Greg Copeland recalls the edgier side of L.A. on 27 Red House Road while Steve Noonan‘s Goin’ Home relates a tale of him, Greg Copland and Jackson Browne building a spooky urban scarecrow to keep drug addicts away from their door. Both songs are superb. With some fine up tempo country rock from Mikael Persson (Home Sweet Home) and the excellent Steve Stills styled acoustic jab of Home Nights by Sugarcane Jane the newcomers more than hold their own. The album ends as it begins with a live song from a seventies survivor, Jackson Browne, with a great rendition of The Rebel Jesus that demonstrates that some of these guys are still as vital and significant as they were then.
Check out the website here
And listen to Jack Tempchin here